Saturday, March 22, 2014

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Porcelain Figure of William Shakespeare, 1765

William Shakespeare
Derby Porcelain
The Victoria & Albert Museum
When I first saw this Derby porcelain figure from about 1765 in the collection of the V&A, I didn’t immediately recognize it as William Shakespeare (1564-1616). The modern idea of Shakespeare’s countenance has developed over time and is based on hundreds of different representations of the celebrated writer. What he exactly looked like, we’ll never really know. This is but one interpretation of Shakespeare—rendered almost one hundred sixty years after his death.

This figurine of “The Bard” is based on the life-size white marble statue by Peter Scheemakers in the monument designed by William Kent, erected in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. The monument was erected in 1740, 124 years after Shakespeare's death. It was sponsored by the Earl of Burlington, Dr Mead, Alexander Pope and one Mr. Martin. It’s important to note that William Shakespeare is not buried in Poet’s Corner in the Abbey, but is, rather, buried in Stratford upon Avon though many suggested that his remains should be moved from Stratford to Westminster Abbey. That idea was abandoned after awhile and the monument remains just that—a monument and not a tomb.

We see Shakespeare depicted as pointing to a scroll which is inscribed with Prospero's Act IV lines from 
The Tempest:The Cloud capt Tow’rs, The Gorgeous Palaces, The Solemn Temples, 
The Great Globe itself, Yea all which it Inherit, Shall Dissolve; 
And like the baseless Fabrick of a Vision, Leave not a wrack behind. 

The scroll rests on a pedestal which is adorned with the carved heads of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry V and Richard III.

This handsome figure is the work of the Derby factory which produced three versions of the figurine in the late 1750s to mid-1760s. It was often sold as a pair with a figure of John Milton.

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